A few months ago we reported on how East Africa's first reliable broadband Internet connection could revolutionize the employment landscape by allowing seamless virtual workspaces and long-distance employment.
Now popular newspaper Business Daily Africa reports on the benefits virtual worlds are bringing to the pan-African scene, and guess what - they include the myriad benefits virtual workplaces provide to a growing underemployed youth population!
Pixels and Policy takes a closer look.
Africa, VirtuallyIn our November article on Kenya's new broadband internet connection, we made the following point:
Employment is meaningful when many Kenyans die of preventable diseases and illnesses of poverty. Expect to see Kenyans ready to jump at any opportunity to do work that supplements their often subsistence rural income.
For a nation with a work force of only 17 million, the internet and access to virtual worlds means a lot more than a chance to play World of Warcraft.
Quite a few readers wrote us skeptical e-mails asking various permutations of the same question: On a continent that houses some of the poorest countries in the world, how will young Africans afford broadband access and the computers necessary to power virtual worlds? It's a fair question, and one Business Daily Africa approaches head-on.
In short: The rise of Internet cafés and shared computers, coupled with low-processor virtual worlds that can run in browsers (for exampel, IBM's business-based browser world through Web.Alive) means Africans have more access to the Internet than ever. Given advances in virtual conferencing technology, developing work-focused virtual worlds that can operate on lower-end systems should be a snap. Projects like Web.Alive are already filling the niche market with much-touted software.
Quick-loading virtual worlds operated through Internet cafés could provide a starting point for expanding employment and education in Africa. That's because in-demand positions like entry-level tech support, customer service and call-center representatives transition well to the outsourcing power of virtual worlds.
An employee needn't be in the same town or country as the company they work for, so long as they can speak the language and satisfactorily pass training sessions. Even language may not pose the obstacle it once did. As Business Daily Africa says in their article, "The Benefits of a Virtual World," translation services like those already present in Second Life provide even greater accessibility:
Translation devices let people surmount language barriers. Data files can be shared instantly. Movement is controlled in real time by the person behind each avatar, and also through scripted animations that allow for increasingly realistic movements — instead of looking stiff and motionless, avatars can shift in their seats, for example, or follow the script cues for other smooth-flowing gestures.
As a cost-saving method of doing business, virtual worlds are proven. Just consider IBM's latest figures as mentioned in the above article: Not only did IBM save over $250,000 in travel and conferencing costs thanks to an $80,000 virtual worlds investment - they also added over $100,000 in employee productivity. That money means more potential jobs, and with it the uplifting forces of increased wage earning in developing countries.
That's real development, not just dead aid.